North Dakota Eclectics

North Dakota lies within two large land regions. The northeastern half of the state is part of the Central Lowlands, stretching east to the Appalachian Mountains and south to the Coastal Plain on the Gulf of Mexico, while the southwestern part of the state begins the Great Plains, which stretches west to the Rocky Mountains. While North Dakota never extended to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf came up to North Dakota, not once but several times. A large arm of the Gulf of Mexico extended up into Canada, covering much of the interior lowlands of the United States with ocean water. Even now, nearly all of the state is less than a half mile above sea level.

The surface of the land in North Dakota resembles three broad steps of prairie, rising like a flight of stairs going up three steps, each about one hundred miles wide, the lowest step being the Red River Valley, on the eastern end of the state.

The Central Lowlands part of North Dakota consists of two regions, which are the Red River Valley and the Drift Prairie. The Red River Valley is a flat strip of land about thirty to forty miles wide, and the Valley itself is the lake bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz, which is very fertile soil. The Red River Valley is separated from the Drift Prairie by the Pembina Escarpment, with a sharp rise in elevation, particularly at the northern end, where the Pembina Hills rise from three hundred to five hundred feet. The Drift Prairie is of the Pembina Escarpment, and is characterized by its gently rolling prairie, marked with potholes, lakes and sloughs. The Drift Prairie is about two hundred miles wide at the Canadian border and seventy miles wide at the South Dakota border. The Turtle Mountains, on the Canadian border, and the Prairie Coteau, on the Dakota border, rise to elevations of seven hundred feet above the Drift Prairie, while elevations along the Drift Prairie range from 1,400 to 1,700 feet above sea level.

The Missouri Escarpment, in North Dakota, divides the Central Lowlands from the Great Plains, with the western boundary of the Drift Prairie marked by a rise in elevation of up to seven hundred feet.

West of the Missouri Escarpment is the Missouri Coteau, which is also known as the "Hills of the Missouri." The Missouri Coteau is a strip of hilly country, thirty to fifty miles wide. Several lakes and sloughs were created by sediment left by glaciers. The Missouri Coteau slopes into the Missouri Plateau, through which the Missouri River flows. The Missouri Plateau covers most of the southwestern half of North Dakota, with all but the southwestern third of the Plateau covered with a thin layer of glacial deposits, leaving the land hilly with several buttes. The elevation of the Plateau runs from two thousand to three thousand feet above sea level. White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota, is 3,506 feet above sea level.

Running along the Little Missouri River, the Badlands is a part of the state that was not covered by glaciers. Erosion has created several ravines and broken bottomlands, while running water and wind exposed colorful rock strata.

Of Interest